A critical analysis of New Zealand's Psychoactive Substances Act 2013 and its implementation process : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Public Health at Massey University, Albany, New Zealand

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Introduction: In July 2013, the New Zealand Parliament passed the Psychoactive Substances Act (PSA), the world’s first law to regulate the availability of new psychoactive substances (NPS, “legal highs”, LH). Under the “interim PSA regime” 47 products were permitted to be sold subject to new retail and other regulations. In May 2014, the Government abruptly ended the interim regime following public protests. This thesis aims to critically evaluate the PSA and its implementation. Methods: A mixed methods approach combined qualitative and quantitative methods of data collection and analysis. Legal analysis of the PSA and related legislation, and content analysis of parliamentary debates and public submissions were completed. Semi-structured interviews were then conducted with key informants (KI) including politicians, government officials, health professionals, and LH industry actors (n=30). Questions about health perceptions and social acceptability of approved products were added to an annual survey of police arrestees (n=834). Analyses of primary data included thematic analysis of interview transcripts and statistical analysis of data from the arrestee survey. Results: The legal definition of “psychoactive substance” (s. 8, 9(1) PSA) overlaps with other regulatory regimes (e.g. medicines, dietary supplements) resulting in an unclear legal status for some products. Interviewed KIs identified a number of issues with the “interim regime”, including the safety of interim products, speed and efficiency of withdrawing problem products, the lack of regulations on price and retail opening hours, slowness of developing regulations for the full PSA regime, and the effectiveness of communicating the new policy to stakeholders and the public. As the market commercialised, the LH industry adopted business and lobbying strategies previously attributed to the alcohol and tobacco sectors, including targeting vulnerable customers. Surveyed police arrestees considered approved synthetic cannabis (SC) products higher health risk and less socially acceptable than alcohol, tobacco and many illegal drugs, reflecting problems with interim product approvals. The ban on animal testing of prospective products is likely to prevent further implementation of the PSA, unless a new political consensus is achieved. Conclusions: The issues experienced during PSA implementation highlight the significant challenges of establishing a legal market for psychoactive products. The time, resources and planning required to successfully implement the PSA may have been underestimated.
Listed in 2017 Dean's List of Exceptional Theses
Psychoactive Substances Act 2013, Psychotropic drugs industry, Law and legislation, New Zealand, Research Subject Categories::LAW/JURISPRUDENCE::Public law::Social welfare law, Dean's List of Exceptional Theses